I have avoided posting anything about the Stormers this Super Rugby season. It’s tough being a supporter at the moment and to put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard in this instance – only confirms how horrible it truly has been. However with a well needed break in the form of looming international matches against a World XV, Wales and Scotland, I have found myself reflecting on the season which has been thus far. Besides the serious lack of tries and victories, two things stand out when analysing the Stormers 2014 Super Rugby campaign thus far: Injuries and the lack of quality depth.
Freak injuries happen. Gio falling awkwardly on his arm and dislocating his elbow is a prime example. There is not much a conditioning coach can do about that sort of injury. There is no amount of sucking it at Mad-dog Mondays that will stop you from dislocating an elbow or concussing a brain during a match. A team needs to roll with the punches when these sorts of injuries occur which is the reason a quality squad has become such an important factor in any successful team’s campaign. When one star falls out another should be waiting in the tunnel to take his place, even if that star is considered a youngster. The process of forming said quality squad starts at grass-root levels and should be nurtured.
The Western Province school boy rugby scene is of the most competitive in the world. Fact. On any given Saturday you can watch any one of Paarl Gym, Paul Roos, Boishaai, Bishops, Wynberg or Tygerberg playing champagne rugby in the Western Cape. The first three of these have generally made up the bulk of the Western Province Craven Week team who have traditionally taken the cup or come just short of it. Rugby is in their blood and it is clear that you don’t have to look further than the fair Cape to find a plethora of budding rugby talent. Yet somehow – someway – this talent gets lost en route to senior representative rugby.
I stumbled upon Tiger Bax’s blog, where he recently offered an interesting insight into what has happened to the junior talent he has the privilege to play with at Province. Along with representing the UCT 1st XV, Tiger played some junior level representative rugby for Province and even had a shot at some game time for the Stormers at some or other stage. He was – and is – a quality rugby player who understands the game. He fits the rugby player I allude to in the above paragraph to the tee: A talented schoolboy player who played junior representative rugby for Province and yet fell through the cracks somehow, someway. What makes his view that much more valuable is that he has first-hand experience of the inner workings of the WPRU.
In 2007 the Western Province u19 team beat the Blue Bulls u19 team in the final of the Currie Cup – or junior version there of – to raise the cup as champions. Tiger played in this team along the likes of Juan de Jongh, Francois Hougaard, Matt Turner, Martin Muller, Stephen Dippenaar and Lourens Adriaanse. Of these seven players – Tiger included – only Juan is currently contracted to WPRU. This to me is a staggering ratio considering the talent of these individuals.
Francois Hougaard became a Bok the following year. Matt Turner, after not cracking the nod at u21 level, left for the greener pastures of Britain and after a stint with Bristol in the AVIVA Premierships established himself as an intricate part of the England 7s team and one of the more electrifying runners on the circuit. Martin Miller spent time in Kimberly, represented the Cheetahs in Super Rugby and currently plays for the Lions in this year’s campaign. Stephen Dippenaar left the Cape for Pretoria and is a current member of the Blitzbokke whilst Lourens Adriaanse played for Griquas, the Cheetahs and most recently the Sharks. He too is a capped Springbok.
Let’s not even mention the likes of Sam Lane, Handre Pollard, JJ Engelbracht, Johan Sadie, Jurgen Visser, Nick Koster, Nick Fenton-Wells and most recently Timo Swiel.
The fact of the matter is that this talent plied its trade in a streeptrui at some point in time in the past and yet found their futures away from The Hallowed Grounds of Newlands. This begs the obvious question: where is the Union’s foresight?
In a recent post Tiger eludes to a point in a u19 or u21’s career where a meeting is held between the contracted players and the WPRU hierarchy. At this meeting the players are told that THEY are the future of the union and that when senior players find themselves on the wrong side of the injury list, it will need these junior players to fill their boots. The players are convinced of the Unions trust in them and assured of the bright future they have before them if they stick around.
How then can WPRU justify the inclusion of players like Jebb Sinclair, Elton Jantjies, Martin Bezuidenhout, Manuel Carizza, and Sailosi Tagicakibau for instance? Surely the most talented school boy rugby player of his generation can bring something more to the party than some thug from Canada? Surely a Bishops thoroughbred Flyhalf can do a better job than some dickhead with a ridiculous haircut from Jozi? Surely?
And yet we as Stormers fans are stuck with watching below par players such as Jaco Taute, Michael Rhodes, Oliver Kebble and Jurie van Vuuren don the Stormers jersey and make a mockery of it. On that note, who the fuck is Jurie van Vuuren? WHO THE FUCK IS JURIE-FUCKING-VAN-VUUREN? Is he the new Rob Linde?
It’s clear that there is a serious lack of foresight in the powers that be at WPRU. Perhaps it is an indication of deeper seated issues with the Union? A core which has rotted from within for many-a-season. One can only hope that the inclusion of Gert Smal will see the homegrown talent remain at the Hallowed Grounds of Newlands. We can only hope.
The words of Friedrich Nietzsche run through my head at this junction.
“In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man’s torments.”
You stay classy,